Police and fire departments have long led the way for municipal entities with social media accounts. With boots on the ground, these departments are connected to communities in ways that many departments do not. Practically speaking, the use of social media is a natural step for police and fire departments in remaining connected to the people they serve.
Social media tools aren’t just for departments like police, fire, or even parks and recreation, however; they are valuable for all municipal divisions when used properly. Facebook is a great tool for getting social media use off the ground if divisions in your municipality have never used any platforms for outreach.
And yes, it is definitely outreach. Social media tools aren’t called “social” for nothing. You are using these tools to join conversations. Facebook pages allow your departments and divisions to have these conversations with the public. Just as the police and fire departments interact with the communities as a whole, each smaller division has its own group of core customers who can be served by a well-maintained Facebook presence.
Who’s On Facebook?
Should every department or division head have a page or an account? Certainly not. That would be overkill, let alone difficult to manage. Before creating any accounts or pages, departments should carefully consider who should have and/or maintain Facebook presences.
Facebook pages and accounts should be reserved for divisions or entities that come into direct contact with the public. Have a permits desk in your division? There should be a Facebook page. What about the Human Resources department? Yes, that department should maintain a Facebook page as well. What about all the different inspection fields throughout your entire entity? If your division provides any kind of service to the public, it would be wise to offer this kind of outreach.
Who’s Going to Manage It?
Ideally, these accounts and pages should be maintained by the people on the front lines. Does this mean that your should let an employee behind a counter simply use his personal Facebook account to post public information? No, not by any means. However, the use of Public Information Officers (PIOs) should be reserved for department-wide public relations work, not maintenance of multiple social media accounts and platforms.
PIOs definitely have a hand in Facebook and other social media tools, but it’s the people and entities who are on the frontlines of service who should be managing the pages — as long as they are properly trained.
Who Gets to Say What?
Those managing the municipality’s accounts should be trained on how to use a page as a true communication tool. Many municipalities fear public comments because of the potential for backlash and legal issues. However, allowing public comments can be a new frontier in public forums.
Public meetings such as city council meetings or public hearings are a great opportunity for the public to voice opinions, yet not every member of the constituency has the opportunity to make it to City Hall. Some fear public speaking; others may not have access to transportation. Yet the internet and Facebook are readily available. Posting polls and soliciting public comments on hot-button issues are great ways to allow for greater participation and to cut down on paper work.
Moderating comments on a municipal Facebook page is a wise practice. Facebook offers Page administrators the option of choosing on which posts the public are allowed to comment. Once a moderator makes the choice of allowing comments on a post, it should be noted that moderating comments could be a violation of a commenter’s right to free speech.
In collaboration with a member of your legal team, create a policy for posting comments on any municipal Facebook pages and accounts, and be sure to clearly state this policy on those accounts. Then don’t be afraid of what your public has to say.
Who Leads the Conversation?
Facebook is a way for municipalities to join and start conversations. You can post events, like hearings or social gatherings. You can share pictures from ceremonies. You can solicit opinions.
Just remember that Facebook is a two-way street. It is, as Jeanie Guidry states, “about the ability to not just talk to people but also have people talk back at you, to actually be in whatever level of conversation that we can get to.” Using Facebook gets virtual boots on the ground for divisions across the entirety of a municipality. It allows you in the hearts and minds of your public and allows them inside your walls when they can’t be there.